I loved this movie. Truly, honestly loved it. It’s mean (but "fun mean"), funny as all get out and pushes all sorts of buttons. Tossing sex, drugs, and violence at the screen with Wong Jing-like panache, Waters’ here has delivered a film that easily ranks as one of the best times I’ve had at the theater this year.
The plot is joyously twisted. A maniacally obsessive film director with a revolutionary streak, Cecil B. Demented (Stepehn Dorff), and his production crew/ crime partners, the "Sprocket Holes," kidnap movie star Honey Whitlock (Melanie Griffith) and force her to star in their guerrilla cinema epic, Raving Beauty. The film, shot in what Demented calls "ultimate reality" (which translates into "real life, real people, and yes. real terror"), takes aim at seizing cinema back from the hands of a Hollywood establishment responsible for such "feel-good" classics as Patch Adams and Forrest Gump (both of which are roasted viciously in this film- much to my personal delight.) Fighting against family film freaks, The Maryland Film Commission and the Police Department, the gang struggles to stay out of jail and stay alive long enough to finish their film. This is not easy task, even though they’re aided in this cause by everyone from porn aficionados to martial arts movie junkies (my kind of people) and ultimately Honey herself.
If you are part of the former group (I.E., if you liked Forrest Gump for it’s wholesome goodness) you probably won’t like this movie. If you’re part of the latter group (I.E., if you’re like me) you are strongly urged to check it out. Featuring more action than you would probably expect, a subversive streak a mile wide and a shitload of laughs, Cecil B. Demented is pure heaven for the trash film fan.
As one would expect from Waters the film is crisply written and well directed, tossing gags and action around at a furious pace. One thing that wasn’t expected, however, was the success of the casting decisions made for this film. I’ve never held either Stephen Dorff or Melanie Griffith in the highest regard and, to be honest, had Waters not been attached to this project the prospects of the two of them in a film together would have turned me off in a big way (to be honest, I would have run as far away from the theater as possible.) I’m happy to report they both far exceeded my meager expectations and, in the process, jumped up a notch or two in my eyes.
Dorff, who is brilliant as the twisted auteur, was Waters choice from the very beginning. Of this Waters said, "I thought he would be able to play this right- like a zealot, a Mansonesque character- without ever winking at the audience and camping it up." He was certainly right. Despite the ridiculous circumstances, Dorff plays this character with more intensity than I’ve seen him use in other, reportedly dramatic roles. This intensity (partially, at least) anchors the film in reality and without that link, the film wouldn’t have been so deliciously subversive.
Griffith also turned out to be another wonderful choice. "I thought she had a sense of humor. That was the main thing. I knew she could make fun of herself and I knew that she was a real movie star. It wouldn’t have worked- this movie- if you had a good up and coming actress playing a movie star. It had to be a real one," Waters said of his star. Griffith delivers the above and more, playing the role of the spoiled starlet to perfection.
The rest of the cast is solid, especially Kevin Nealon (as "himself" playing the lead role in Forrest Gump II), and three "Sprocket Holes:" Alicia Witt (As Cherish, a former porn star in love with Cecil), Adrian Grenier (as Lyle, Raving Beauty’s every-drug-I’ve-heard-of-I’ve-taken leading man) and Jack Noseworthy (as the self-hating heterosexual hairdresser Rodney.)
And with that, I’ll say it again. I loved this movie.
This article was originally published in Boston's Weekly Dig (now digBoston) in August 2000.